Michael Nania projects what the tight end duo of Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin could produce in the passing game.
Griffin took some time to ease into his role as the TE1 with Herndon on the sidelines. He was only targeted seven times over his first four games even though he was playing the majority of the Jets’ offensive snaps.
It was not until the Week 6 game against Dallas – which was initially expected to be Herndon’s return from suspension until injuries kept him out longer – that Griffin began getting involved in the passing game.
Griffin’s playing time did not change much at all throughout the season. He simply began to see more passes thrown his way as the season progressed, and he did a lot more with those targets as well.
Using Griffin’s 2019 production to project what he will do in 2020 is a tough proposition. Presumably, he will be the second option at tight end behind Herndon, but we have no idea how large the divide in targets between the two players will be.
Griffin’s career in Houston is a good model. Over his final four years with the Texans, Griffin played the prototype TE2 role. Even though Houston never had a true TE1 that Griffin was stuck behind on the depth chart, his playing time and involvement in the passing game was very similar to what we can expect from him as the Scottie Pippen to Herndon’s Michael Jordan.
Here’s a look at Griffin’s numbers with the Texans from 2015-18 compared to his numbers from Weeks 1-13 with the Jets (per-game numbers exclude the Week 14 game in which Griffin was injured).
With his early-season cold stretch included, Griffin’s overall involvement with the Jets passing attack was extremely similar to how the Texans used him. He was just far more efficient on a per-target basis and a more prolific touchdown scorer with the Jets.
Considering that Herndon’s return will likely take away a large portion of the targets Griffin was getting once he caught fire, it’s safer to project his future using his entire 2019 season and Texans career rather than merely his hot finish to 2019.
Griffin is an excellent bet to be featured just about as much as he has over the past five years: running routes on somewhere from 55-60% of passing plays and seeing 3-4 targets per game. His production has steadily sat in the range of 2-3 catches for 22-28 yards per game. The tremendous efficiency that he showcased with the Jets inspires confidence that he can continue to rack up a healthy amount of first downs and touchdowns relative to his number of targets.
Taking into account this highly consistent sample of data from his last five years of play, I think it is safe to predict that Griffin will produce somewhere around 40 catches on 55 targets for 400 yards and four touchdowns with the Jets in 2019 (if he and Herndon stay healthy for all 16 games). His volume production has been very consistent in that 40/400 range. In terms of touchdowns, I’m settling in-between his tiny totals in Houston and his solid total with the Jets.
If a team’s TE2 is putting up those numbers, then they have one hell of a duo.
Herndon’s rookie season stands as one of the upper-echelon campaigns for first-year tight ends in recent memory. It laid the groundwork for him to take a massive leap in 2019, but of course, that opportunity was shattered due to a four-game suspension and nagging injuries.
Although Herndon is technically going into Year 3, a good way to map out his projection is to take a look at some players who had comparable rookie seasons and see how their production changed from Year 1 to Year 2. This will give us a glimpse of what Herndon could become if he builds off of his first season in a way akin to similarly talented players.
Here is a look at the top-20 tight ends in rookie-year receiving yards since 2000. Herndon ranked 13th with 502. There are quite a few exciting comparisons in his neighborhood: